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Independence Does Not Own A Car

(Photo: Just how independent do you really feel every time you reach into your wallet these days to pay for owning an automobile?)

The front-page story in today’s Sun-Times chronicles a northwest side paralegal, Melissa Monroy, who has decided to dump her car to get to work. The way she is quoted in the article, you would think not having a car in Chicago–the city with the second largest train, bus, and commuter rail system in America (uneven CTA service notwithstanding)–is a death sentence.

I’ve lived in this town for more than five years on the north side, the northwest side, and downtown, and I don’t drive. As we all know, being a former New Yorker, I never learned to drive.

The only time that ever becomes a problem for me is when I want to make a trip to the far suburbs (Ikea, anyone?). Monroy, however, says she can’t go to a grocery store, come home from a weekend’s carousing, or “drive home for lunch” without a car. The last one is particularly silly: without that car to come home, she says she is “forced” to eat lunch in restaurants.

I think the problem is really that she’s trapped by her limited thinking about her relationship to–and need for–her automobile. It’s hard to step out of that gas-powered comfort zone.

But millions of us in this country get around just fine without owning a car. Many of us do it by choice, not because we’re too poor to own one. And we do it without a lot of hand-wringing over our alleged plight, or hand-holding to console us that we aren’t paying $5 a gallon for gas.

Monroy can learn to carry a grocery bag, or buy a shopping cart. If she can leave her house to get downtown on the CTA, I’m pretty sure she can get back home via the CTA, too (that one just sounds like fear of nighttime transit travel to me). And she can certainly make her own lunch–it would save her money and the only excuse for not doing so is laziness.

Monroy’s closing quote: “I like to be independent. Not having a car, you don’t feel very independent.”

Still, maybe without that automobile, Melissa, you’re now a lot more independent than you feel. After all, who is more truly independent: the person who pays $75 a month for a CTA pass; or the one who pays $600 a month for gas and a car note?

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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18 replies

  1. I’m hoping when Ms Munroy gets through her mourning period, she starts to realize how freeing it is to not have to own a car. I also hope she calls that reporter back and gives him (her?) and gives him a stern talking to for making her sound like a whining, self-centered spoiled child.

  2. Most, if not all, of the comments here are written by people without a car or soon to give-up their car, and in neighborhoods with a modicum of reliable transit service. We forget that most of the far Northwest area of Chicago is ill-served by quick and reliable bus service.

    Many bus lines end service by 10 pm weeknights. A lot of the bus routes don’t even have Sunday service. Rail is virtually non-existent for over half the city, with many areas 5 or more miles away from the nearest train station requiring at least one or two bus connections just to get to a station.

    I’m not going to stick up for Munroy, but like most newspaper writers, paraphrasing can slant an article one way or another with unintended effects to the subject. I think a couple phrases were poorly written or edited that make us believe she can’t function as a human without a car.

    Her exact address wasn’t mentioned, nor her bus routes/rail lines she takes for her job, education and social activities. I would like to think she is a bit more intrepid than others would have us believe.

  3. I drove around in the suburbs for 5 years and I just moved to Irving Park a month ago. I had plans to take the car up here for the first few weeks to get a good idea of city life but that never happened. I took my mom’s old bike, and now I bike or use CTA.

    Maybe she just never gave not having a car a chance. It could be a huge change and something she doesn’t want to get used to- but I always thought that driving your car, no matter where you are, was so risky. You never know who’s out there drunk or not paying attention.

  4. Ryan, Monroy’s last name appears in a major newspaper, in an article that will also, as you say, be “enshrined forever” whenever people Google her. Speaking as someone who has been interviewed several times in major media, two points:

    1. When you do a media interview, you know full well that your words will be disseminated widely and will live on long after you share them; and

    2. When you agree to have your picture, full name, and opinions appear on the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times, you have no right to expect others not to equally publicly discuss or criticize your views.

    Anyone who wants to remain anonymous probably shouldn’t be smiling on page one. That’s the funny thing with news. There are two sides to every story.

    At least.

  5. I’m not really looking for my comment to appear.

    I just want to suggest you remove this woman’s last name. She’s not a public person. She was quoted in the paper. I agree with some of your criticisms, but don’t think she should have your critique enshrined forever whenever people google her, etc.

  6. I’d like to note that I didn’t intend to bash Melissa Monroy. I know some of the comments here have been pointed. It’s difficult for anyone to step outside of their comfort zone, no matter if other people might be doing just fine beyond it.

    I think there are many people out there who have never examined how they could live their lives–or parts of their lives–without a car. Like Melissa, these folks might want to give that some thought.

    Even without the money saved by taking transit, and even for the added burden of potentially longer trips, learning to read a CTA map, or (and for thousands of years before the car, no one considered this a burden) walking, it can be a pretty fabulous world once you manage to slow your lifestyle down from 55 miles an hour.

  7. I ditched my car after six months in Chicago (Rogers Park and now Andersonville) and I do not miss it one bit. Ms. Monroy needs to look into options like iGO Car Sharing (they pay for the gas), cabs at night, BRINGING HER LUNCH – no one is “forcing” her to eat at restaurants, and I can’t believe the wasted fuel in driving home for lunch every day – and a $30 shopping cart.

    Seriously, iGo is fantastic. I have the budget plan, I use it twice a month for laundry and groceries, and it is exponentially cheaper than car ownership.

  8. When I moved here from Louisiana six years ago, it took me less than eight months to decide to sell my car and rely on public transport. In those eight months, I drove my car maybe half a dozen times, usually out of town to explore the region.

    I find not owning a car incredibly freeing. I don’t have to worry about maintenance or insurance or parking or opening the door in front of a cyclist. My well-developed legs – and occasionally the train – get me where I need to go. I’ve become a confirmed pedestrian, and I’m healthier for it; I’ve dropped almost 40 pounds since moving here.

    I honestly hope I never need to own another car again.

  9. To be perfectly honest I would say this young lady isn’t thinking outside of the box. And surely instead of driving home for lunch she can find herself something to eat near where ever it is she works. That or bring a lunch to work with her.

    That being said, I would honestly rather take a car to the grocery store. It would of course have to depend on how much groceries I’d have to buy. If the store was around the corner from me it would be no problem for me to carry two or three bags walking home. Or even on the bus or train.

    I certainly can understand the savings on at the minimum fuel. Which is why if at all possible I would rather take public transportation to work instead of having for example driving downtown looking for some decent parking. Those who do that I honestly wonder why they would engage in that expense.

  10. I’ve lived in Roger’s Park for 7 years without a car, and I have to say, it’s doable and worthwhile if you have an agenda, but (for me) it’d be less than honest to gloss over the considerable drawbacks of public transit.

    Yes, I know with some people there’re class issues at work, but. That’s not all there is to it.

    The train has always seemed to me to be inherently riskier on a weekend evening. As the ratio of commuters to aggressive drunks, pick up artists, and smelly crazies go up, my comfort level goes down. It’s not that the commuters are better people, they just tend to keep the ‘coocoo’ under wraps M-F.

    If you’ve been drinking or if you’ve just been out late and your level of alertness is lower than usual, and are dressed for a night out, it feels even riskier at times.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t do it, but I can’t say that it’s not a drawback, regardless of whether or not my feeling is supported by crime statistics.

    I agree with brian too, regardless of cyclist agenda, re: CTA not being reliable. I know we have a lot more transit options than many other cities, but damn if I don’t get sick of getting stuck between stops (1 stop before mine) for 1/2 hour +. I hate the construction delays, I hate that the trains are so crowded. I am also not fond of the loutish and loud Cub drunkies.

    I have to say, it’s not all bad, though. I think you experience the city differently if you’re not just whizzing by it in a car (even if you sometimes find yourself in a traincar with someone taking a whiz). I really enjoy walking along the street towards my destination as I wait for my bus, looking at the stores and the people around me. Winter is another story…

  11. I’m a woman, I don’t own a car (don’t even have a license!) and I have no problem taking a cab home at night when I need to and using the CTA the rest of the time – that includes grocery shopping, late night partying, and the rest.

    So, yeah, Miss Monroy (and other car-dependents) are just refusing to think outside of the box.

  12. Am I the only one wondering why she can’t take a cab home if she feels unsafe taking public transit at night? Sure, it’s much more expensive than the CTA… but a $20-$30 cab ride once a week is still way cheaper than owning a car, no?

  13. Brian, you are correct, Chicagoans deserve better conditions for cyclists. Considering how many bike-bus accidents there have been recently, the mayor’s idea to have bicyclists share CTA bus lanes is downright frightening.

    It’s pretty clear to me you used the comment box to push the cycling agenda rather than speak thoughtfully to the point of the post, which is public transit. That’s fine, I am with you on the cycling agenda.

    But it sounds to me like you’re real issue with the CTA is that you don’t find your bicycle to be as well accomodated on trains as you would like.

    Hmm, that could be a whole post in itself…

  14. First off, I am a daily cyclist. I ride my bike to and from my work space, I use my bike to run most errands, and really try my best to use my car as little as possible. Of course, I also have a 6 month old son, so my wife and I are forced to rely on our car (and the child safety seat) a couple times a week.

    And while I personally feel that Miss Monroy (and thousands of other Chicagoans) is unfortunately too narrow-minded in her ability to embrace the freedom of not owning a car, I don’t think that it’s Miss Monroy that is to blame. Both Mayor Daley and Gov. Blagojevich claim to be proponents of a bike-friendly Chicago, actions speak louder than words.

    The fact is biking in Chicago is NOT as safe as it should/could be, it is NOT as convenient as it should/could be, and for all intents and purposes, it IS kind of a pain in the a$$ (literally AND figuratively) to commit to using a bicycle as your main source of transportation.

    If there even ARE any laws and/or regulations defining the relationship between cyclists and drivers, they certainly aren’t enforced. It seems that both cyclists and drivers have their own understanding of what is and what is not acceptable behavior. I’ve seen cyclists get ticketed for behaving in ways that, as per the situation, saved the cyclist’s life. Conversely, I’ve seen drivers make hasty and risky decisions that very well may have put cyclists in severe danger right in front of police officers who seem to never notice.

    The CTA is plain and simple not reliable alternative for motorists. It is in serious need of legislative and financial compassion and support. As of right now, it’s in lousy condition, and provides no real incentive for anyone looking to ditch their gas-guzzler. Whether it’s messy scheduling, de-railings, increased fairs, or rules against bringing your bike aboard, I don’t see why anyone would opt to take a train or a bus (ha, good luck) from Point A to Point B rather than their own car. The cost difference (between fair and gas) is made up for in reliability, comfort and, most often, speed.

    My point is that the responsibility lies in the hands of our leaders and lawmakers. Yes, I wish that Miss Monroy had a different perspective on the freedom of being carless, but I can’t blame her. We need laws in place that will help cyclists and motorists coexist peacefully, and provide incentive to folks looking to ditch their cars. Until then, expect confusion, frustration, disappointment and unfortunately, more white bike memorials.

  15. Why? Which is dangerous and at what hour? Norwood Park, where a good chunk of Chicago’s police and fire departments live (or a bus through same)? The Blue Line, which, like the Red Line, can be standing room only well past midnight on a weekend evening?

    That sounds like a knee-jerk assumption that transit is somehow inherently dangerous or riskier on a weekend evening. On the same evenings, it’s also risky to be in a car as inebriated drivers come home from the same clubs and travel down the same highway Monroy used to.

    Ultimately it’s a question of anyone’s personal comfort zone, but there is nothing inherently more dangerous about taking transit on a weekend night.

    I would think Monroy would be at greater risk being out as a single woman in a late-night bar.

    This reminds me of the many comments I’ve heard from white people about taking the Green Line back and forth to Oak Park from the city. “Don’t take it”. “It’s dangerous”. I’ve even heard, “it’s a bunch of animals on there at night”.

    It’s actually none of those things. It’s just a train full of people trying to come and go. Just because you’re unfamiliar with your fellow travelers and the territory you’re traveling through doesn’t automatically make them cause for alarm.

  16. While on most points I do agree with you, I think that for a young woman who may live in an area on the NW side where public transportation may not be frequent (we’re talking Norwood Park, not Wicker!) safety is an issue especially if she is out late and has to rely on others for a ride.

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